Friday, 15 December 2017

The Mizmaze

It was 5th November, and I'd moved on from South Wales to the New Forest. I was at the tail end of my final caravan holiday of 2017.

I'd parked Fiona near the church at Breamore (which is pronounced 'Bremmer'), a small village between Salisbury and Fordingbridge. Here's a location map. Breamore is lower-centre, on the A338. As ever, click on it to enlarge.

I'd visited Breamore several times before, usually to see the list of Dead Dommetts on a plaque in the church porch, Dommett being the family name on Dad's side. The first such 'genealogical visit' was in the company of a lady friend, Edwina, in July 1976, when we were both living and working in Southampton. This was her then.

We were firm friends during 1976, and indeed 1977, but I was but one of many, many friends and acquaintances in her life. I was very lucky to enjoy so much of her time. My job shifted to London in 1978 and gradually we saw less and less of each other. I haven't been in touch with her since 1984, and often wonder what became of her.

Earlier in 1976, in February, I'd come to Breamore with another friend whose present life and whereabouts are also a mystery. On that occasion it was Jenny. Here she is, by one of the lion-topped gateposts at the entrance to Breamore House, the local big house. We were on our way to see the Mizmaze, of which more anon.

Now it was 2017, forty-one years later. I took a selfie at the same gatepost, in much the same pose as Jenny's.

I wonder what they look like now, Jenny and Edwina. They are both older than me. Jenny would be in her late sixties, and Edwina in her late seventies, but neither would necessarily look their age. I dare say both would still be game for a walk through the Breamore Estate to the Mizmaze!

In the intervening years since 1976, I'd come here twice with M---. She too was always up for a decent walk on the downs. I seemed to specialise in feisty girl friends!

This larger-scale map gives a better idea of the walking route to the Mizmaze (top left) from where I'd left Fiona (bottom right).

And here is a close-up of the immediate vicinity of the Mizmaze.

The uplands in these parts are studded with ancient burial mounds and other features. The Mizmaze itself is an old maze (strictly a labrynth) cut into the turf. Just how old is unknown, but it may be medieval, and connected with ecclesiastical penances and punishments. There was a priory at Breamore from 1129. See and The second link has an aerial photo, clearly showing the layout. The Mizmaze is set in a woodland clearing, hemmed in by yew trees (creepy!), but originally it may have been much less enclosed, perhaps even out in open downland. 

I have Volume 3 of a series of books that describe the original Ordnance Survey triangulation of England in the early 1800s, with reproductions of the first One-Inch map produced from that. 

Volume 3 includes this part of Hampshire, and here is the Mizmaze (spelled 'Mizaze') as first shown on a published OS map.

I rather think the misspelling is down to the surveyor enquiring with the local farmhands and shepherds - who he thought ought to know - as to what the maze was generally called. Uneducated rustics were however notorious for corrupting local place names in various ways. In Sussex dialect, for instance, a 'wasp' would become a 'wapse': thus Wapses Farm, and so forth. Here the rustics had already decided that 'Bree-more' or 'Bray-more' should be properly called 'Bremmer', so it's unremarkable that they should tell the surveyor, in all seriousness, that the turfy maze up on the Downs 'be known to every man as the Mizaze', the second M being slurred away in the usual agricultural fashion. The map also suggests that in 1808 or whatever the yews formed a neat ring around the maze, and had not yet become wild and ragged, so that the maze was half-lost in a dense wood. Also that at the centre might have been a feature of some kind, such as a little stone monument, a cross perhaps, long since gone.

Well, shod with my trusty Alt-Berg boots, I set forth. The first leg took me past Breamore House. My route was entirely on a public bridlepath, but it felt all the way like a private drive, and there was a distinct feeling, hard to suppress, that one had no right to be there. The House wasn't a country house in the grand Blenheim Palace way; but it was certainly old - Elizabethan - and seemed a very handsome affair in the afternoon sunshine. The complex of buildings included an imposing clock-tower.

The driveway became a woodland track. I followed it uphill for a mile or so. Eventually it emerged onto open downland, with good views. Up ahead was a dark wood.

I approached it, and then looked back.

Hmm. The sun was definitely starting to set. I'd better not dilly-dally. I wasn't keen on returning through woods after dark. Well, here was the sign to the maze. My goodness, it had seen better days. 

And there was the path into the yew wood. Right, here goes. 

It was an easy path to follow, but it wound this way and that without seeming to get anywhere. Surely it had been a lot shorter on my previous visits? The yew trees were silent, brooding. In the late-afternoon light they looked dark, and not very friendly. Their dense evergreen foliage blocked the sunlight. But then the maze suddenly came into sight. It was, as before, fenced in. There was another notice.

Keep outside the fence. Fair enough. But having walked up here, I'd want my photos. There was a well-worn footpath all around the perimeter. I made my way along it. That wasn't altogether easy.  The trees overhung the fence in places, and you had to push through.

The maze wasn't in a good state. It needed a lot of tidying-up. I'd seen it looking far better than this. In 1976 you could duck under the surrounding rail and stand inside. Here's Jenny doing just that. The chalk between the turf sections was then white, and neatly-defined.

And here's M--- at the maze in 1993, when if anything it looked even nicer.

We returned in 2005, just after I retired. The maze was still looking very well cared-for - possibly the best I had seen it so far.

In 2017, however, things were not as they should be. There was a definite air of neglect. I earnestly hoped that some badly-needed TLC was scheduled for 2018.

Meanwhile, here I was. How as I to impress myself onto the maze without actually treading on it? I tried to do it with my shadow, when two-thirds of the way around.

But that wasn't satisfying. No, despite the plea not to do so on the notice, I'd have to stand inside, just for the experience. Who knows when I might next come? The same notion had obviously occurred to many before me. Part of the fencing had been broken and pushed down, to allow one to step over it. I stepped. But that's all I did. I respected the maze enough to stay at the edge, and not walk into the centre.

(An incriminating photograph, if ever there was one. If caught and convicted, I now face transportation for life to Australia. And woe betide me if I come up before a hanging judge)

It was time to go. The sun was going down fast. The shadows were deepening. I left without a backward glance.

It seems surprising to me that the Mizmaze isn't in the care of the National Trust, or English Heritage, or whatever government or local authority body it is that usually has responsibility for these things. It ought to be. A team of official workmen (or even a team of well-directed student volunteers) could surely restore it to fine fettle, with fresh fencing, information panel and signage, inside a week. 


  1. If only they allowed visitors to walk the path!

  2. Nice story shame its not been maintained! Any one know land owners?

  3. I have just read Sarum, thin on the kindle but too heavy to read on paper. In it a mizmaze in this area was crated in the middle ages and is followed through the ages until its origin is lost in mists of time.


This blog is public, and I expect comments from many sources and points of view. They will be welcome if sincere, well-expressed and add something worthwhile to the post. If not, they face removal.

Ideally I want to hear from bloggers, who, like myself, are knowable as real people and can be contacted. Anyone whose identity is questionable or impossible to verify may have their comments removed. Commercially-inspired comments will certainly be deleted - I do not allow free advertising.

Whoever you are, if you wish to make a private comment, rather than a public one, then do consider emailing me - see my Blogger Profile for the address.

Lucy Melford